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New York Times reporter David Rohde '90 escaped from the Taliban four months ago after being kidnapped while on assignment in Afghanistan. Rohde gave his first public lecture about his experience on Monday in List 120. He also sat down with The Herald to discuss how his perspective has changed since the ordeal and how it feels to share his story with the public.

What have you been doing with your time since you returned from captivity? How have you been spending the last four months?

The initial focus was trying to get Asad (Mangal), our driver, released. And after five weeks he returned to Kabul, which was just absolutely wonderful. And then after that, it was a very long process of writing these stories. It took me longer than I thought. And most importantly, trying to spend time with my wife and my family. I'm just very lucky, and very happy to be home.

There was a lot of information for you to put in your series. How did you decide what to share with your audience?
I actually tried to keep it pretty accurate in terms of the flow of events as they actually occurred. I did, and I said this in the story, I did withhold certain details that I thought would endanger people, and it was a process of just frankly telling a story of how my own perceptions of the Taliban changed. What they were in the beginning — they seemed to be reasonable, and they seemed like maybe they would agree to some kind of compromise — until the end when I was increasingly frankly angry with them and what they were doing to my family and just convinced they would never make an agreement. And I think that if we hadn't escaped then, we would still be over there today.

You have been writing a book on Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years now. How has what you're including in the book changed?

I want to finish the book I was researching when we were kidnapped. A primary part of it is going to be the kidnapping. I'm just trying to figure out how to restructure the outline I had for the book before. The kidnapping occurred on my last reporting trip for the book. I was ready to go and ready to write the whole thing, and this has obviously changed the focus of the book. I'm surprised and encouraged by the reaction of the story. Telling the story of our captivity seems to have gotten people interested in the Taliban and Pakistan and Afghanistan — and more interested than in the past. And it's an incredibly important issue for Afghans and Pakistanis and Americans.

Do you mind telling us a bit more about how the book has changed from what you originally conceptualized?
The original book had virtually nothing about me, no first-person sections. The question now is how much of it will be on the kidnapping. And I think a very large part of it is now going to be about the kidnapping with more context, I think, and background and nuance, I hope. My goal is that the book will have the same tone of the series, which I tried to keep dispassionate. The important thing is not us and our story and our experience. What I'm trying to do is use the kidnapping as a vehicle to inform people more about the Taliban and the region.

How has it been, having to relive this experience for your series, for lectures, to write your book?
It's a mixed bag, but I think that it's worth doing because the situation that exists in the tribal areas today is so dangerous to Pakistanis and Afghans and Americans. It's very important to tell people about the reality there. So, I hope this is a positive thing that's helping inform people. The problem is even more complex than I realized before the kidnapping.

Do you have any advice for Brown students who are international relations majors or interested in the region or are future journalists?
Don't give up. Don't get discouraged. Good, accurate, compelling stories will rise to the top whether they're on a blog or in a podcast or in a newspaper or on a Web site. It's great reporting and storytelling that will succeed, and you just have to believe that's going to happen. When I was at Brown I never imagined I'd be in any situation like this — both the good sides and the bad sides. There always has been a need for storytellers and journalists throughout human history, and that will continue.

—Jenna Stark
 




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